For classic rock fans the new three disc set from Foreigner, Feels Like the First Time, may be something of a mixed blessing. What you get, with an exception or two, is multiple versions of the band’s greatest hits. One disc, Acoustique: The Classics Unplugged, has the latest manifestation of the band running through a stripped-down acoustic version of their songbook. The second, Juke Box Heroes, is a set of “brand new digital recordings” of the band’s greatest hits. Finally, Live in Chicago is a DVD filmed in March of 2011 with some bonus features like backstage footage, interviews with the band, and videos of two of the band’s acoustic performances.
Taken altogether, the set gives you an awful lot of Foreigner, perhaps more than any but the band’s most fanatic followers might want. Others might prefer just a little bit more variety in the repertoire. Great as many of these songs are, do we really need three versions of “Feels Like the First Time” and “Cold as Ice”? After all, out of three hours of music, more or less, there are only two new songs and one cover of another artist.
Although founding member Mick Jones has said he’s surprised that it has taken this long for the band to do some acoustic recording, it may take even more time for listeners to get used to it. The idea of a band reworking its material is not new. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Certainly part of the appeal of classic rockers redoing their hits is nostalgia; reworking the material may have other rewards, but in this case doesn’t push that button. There is something about listening to songs like “Jukebox Hero” and “Double Vision” unplugged that seems just a bit off. Even ballads like “Waiting for a Girl Like You” don’t immediately seem to have the same kind of energy of the originals. Interestingly the band in the DVD interviews clearly recognizes the emotional appeal the music has for their audience. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that the immediate reaction to the reworked songs might be disappointment. In fact the least disappointing track was the cover of the Elvis Presley bonus track “That’s All Right.”
The newly recorded material on the second disc and the performances on the DVD are another story. While there may be some who would prefer remastered versions of the originals, the band in its latest incarnation is no second rate copy. Besides Jones on guitar and keys, the current Foreigner lineup features Jeff Pilson on bass, Tom Gimbel on guitars and reeds, Michael Bluestein on keyboards, and Mark Schulman on drums. Former lead singer Lou Gramm might well object to the branding, but life goes on and bands change. Foreigner as now constituted is playing as well as it ever did. Kelly Hansen, Gramm’s replacement, has the vocal chops to do full justice to the music. Moreover he is a charismatic performer who knows how to take the stage and work the audience. When they plug in, Foreigner can still rock with the best of them. “I Want to Know What Love Is,” Urgent,” “Head Games”: these are the songs you remember, the way you remember them.